Thursday, 26 April 2012
Wednesday, 25 April 2012
12) Public Image Limited - "Metal Box" - 1979
When Johnny Rotten left the Sex Pistols, he joined up with musical virtuoso Jah Wobble and multi-instrumentalist Keith Levene who was a post-punk experimentalist before anyone else even knew what that meant. After a first commercial album, they produced this glorious dubby-punky album which ideally suited Rotten (now John Lydon's) snarling delivery. The original release came in a silver movie-reel canister, but the packaging warped the vinyl inside and made it unplayable. The album was re-released in a normal sleeve and called "Second Edition", either way it was a record they never bettered as their sound became more commercial and Levene left in protest.
11) The Birthday Party - "Junkyard" 1982
A thunderous rhythm section with two drummers, Roland S Howard's guitar noodlings suddenly lurching into squalling feedback and Nick Cave's literary pretensions and on-stage showmanship meant that The Birthday Party were the kings of alternative once the post-punk movement had largely fizzled out by 1980. One of the drummers left shortly after this album and the band were never quite the same again.
8) 23 Skidoo - "Seven Songs" 1982
7) Nas - "Hip Hop Is Dead" 2006
I tend to like my hip-hop intelligent, if not necessarily political, but this album was inflammatory with its call to arms to save the genre from just being commercial product. The title track is so strong, but I also love the track below, part encomium for the history of hip hop, part excoriation for what it's become, a tension that runs throughout the album.
5) Beastie Boys - "Check Your Head" 1992
The Beastie Boys had changed their image and reputation as dumb party animal rappers with the release of "Paul's Boutique" three years earlier, but this was the album that set the tone and format of their career, of playing live instruments and its glorious melange of thrash punk, reggae, old school hip hop, and jazz.
4) Liars - "Drums Not Dead" 2006
The 1990s was a bleak time musically for me. Many of the bands in this chart had split up, or had members die and I'd pretty much stopped buying music and given up going to gigs. But this band more than ever reignited my passion for music in the Noughties with their art-noise albums, where they less construct songs and more compose sound scapes, with voice as just another instrument. Any of their albums could have made it into this chart, but I'm limiting myself to one per band and this just scraped in ahead of the others, ostensibly because of its coherent concept in sound throughout, though don't ask me what the concept of this album actually is!
3) Einsturzende Neubauten - "Halber Mensch" 1985
And talking of art noise, there's no one who quite sound like Neubauten. Industrial, but without the rhythmic discipline of some notional dignity of labour straitjacketing them. German, or more precisely Berliners, when that city was divided against itself, and yet they weren't averse to digging back into their own country's folklore and even somehow defined a German 'Blues'. Bargeld's lyrics bounced from the cosmological scale to the microscopic viral one, positioning mankind very firmly in its insignificant place. This album is the sumptuous sound of decay and decline.
2) Misty In Roots - "Live At The Counter Eurovision" 1979
Quite simply the best reggae album ever made. And despite being live, the sound quality is fantastic.
My only chagrin is that the CD is hard to come by at a reasonable price and someone nicked my original vinyl.
1) Joy Division - "Closer" - 1980
Just the perfect- if depressing- album without a single duff track on it (which is why I chose it over their "Unknown Pleasures" album which is more insistent musically, but has one weak track on it). There's not much more to say about this album that I haven't said on other posts and scores of devotees have also committed to words. Like I say, a perfect 10 and that second side of the album just sends shivers down my spine even after 32 years of listening to it.
Thursday, 19 April 2012
Tuesday, 17 April 2012
The call had gone out. And like any viral meme, no one could quite pinpoint how it had originated, though inevitably many stepped forward to claim the credit. But patently the feeling had now attained critical mass. Though there were as many apathetics and naysayers as advocates across the motherboard of gamers, programmers, coders and 1337s, all were fed up of being the butt of jokes and the objects of derision in the dominant world of the beautiful people. Those people let it be said, who wouldn't have a fraction of their social popularity, without facilitation through the algorithms designed by the likes of those they heaped scorn on.
The silicon teens and assorted tech-heads were sick to their eye teeth with insulting portrayals in films and TV sitcoms, where the office nerd had become the new stooge. How many books had been written in which the pasty-faced complexion of the vampire had been compared with that of the net nerd sat at his screen through the small hours, wilfully shunning natural light? Or the peeling, pustuled skin of zombies referred against the alleged poor hygiene of those wedded to their laptops? It was never clear if commissioning editors were cocking a snook at geeks, believing them to be illiterate, or actively targeting them for sales in the perverse belief this sort of flagellating masochism functioned like catnip.
Enough had been deemed enough. Despite predilections for "Quake", "Counter-Strike", "COD" and "World of Warcraft", the implicit counter-strike against their pernicious image was to be utterly non-violent. Demonstrating a self-assured superiority to all those beautiful people full of sound and fury, piss and vinegar (and how they decried exactly the same about gamers' online communities and message boards, proof positive that the two spoke a different language). If the norms were hell-bent on erecting a caste system, then so be it, though only on terms determined by the tech community.
The battleground was to be that of language. Fitting since that's where most of the brickbats had been forged and fletched before being flung at them. Those mediating their lives through silicon would go the whole hog. In leet speech they had often omitted letters from words in order to cast their neologisms. Now they would strip the spoken tongue of all symbolic power. All referents and metaphor which allowed the norms to aggregate their judgemental scales of value, would be dispensed with. No more notions of beauty and ugliness. Everything was to be reduced as if speech were to become just another machine code. Compressed and broken down into merely a zero/one, yes/no binary functionality. Language as one-to one correspondence to reality. That would leave the imperious floundering.
Where leet speak had foundered, was when it entered the mainstream. Its key terms listed on Wikipedia and Urban Dictionary.com. Just as with punk rock selling out to become merely clothes brands and off the peg rebellion, leet speak too had been colonised by the noobs and norms, which comprehensively defanged it.
Yet leet speak did cede one legacy. Words like pwn- and god how was that one simple word abused and stretched by those without a clue as to its resonances- afforded the template of the new language. It would be a language without vowels like ancient Hebrew. It would be impossible to enunciate unless you were completely versed in it and could supply the vowel sounds from your own inherent comprehension. Another facet of the language, again drawn from Hebraic script, was that each letter was assigned a numerical value. So even if their calligraphic arrangement appeared nonsensical, the inner arithmetic logic seamlessly transmitted the true meaning to those who could appreciate the syntax of its gematria. Such a language appealed to the whole community through the irrefutable logic of its maths, its symmetry and its ciphering element.
The language spread along its clandestine neural networks. This time there could be no online discussions on the forums. When the community was confident as to its own fluency and that full confidentiality from outsiders had been preserved, the next stage of the campaign was swaged. The community would announce it with all the fanfare of a launch, but would then fall silent and disengage from the conventional world once and for all. They would stamp their language, overwriting the entire world for a brief glorious moment, just to demonstrate that they could, then they would withdraw both themselves and their speech, leaving it like an impenetrable Rosetta Stone in their wake. Beyond the range of the insults of the old language for ever. People arming themselves with it as a deflective shield.
The launch had to be co-ordinated with pinpoint synchronicity worldwide. Naturally computers and the virtual world would be fomenting all broadcasts. As many of the world's microprocessors as possible would be co-opted into streaming the unwords. Voluntarily or not. Piggy-backing, back-door trojans, whatever it took to diffuse the indecipherable script. For even the politically motivated hackers were on board, once they were persuaded that their infiltration of high security networks would only be in order to plant the new language as a "screw you" joke and not a political act in itself.
Came the appointed day. The definitive non-message of the private language had been drafted. The massed phalanx of techies, nerds and gamers hit upload. The sound of seemingly random syllables synthesised and articulated by a host of computers. And for one glorious moment the geeks inherited the earth. Only to have it snatched away almost instantaneously once the computerised incantation had ceased. For the strange sounds boosted around the world served up the precise litany of the invocation unto Satan. Amplified with enough energy to have reached Hell itself. And duly summoned, the diabolical one manifested to take possession of his earthly sovereignty.
And like any viral meme, no one could quite pinpoint how it had originated, though as the new infernal regime enslaved both the beautiful and the ugly, no one stepped forward to claim the credit.
Thursday, 12 April 2012
I observe a mother and young daughter heading towards me along the pavement. They are holding hands. A touching, intimate gesture when in such an innocent context. Usually a couple holding hands represents the money shot for me as a private investigator. The clinching image to present the cuckolded spouse back home. Of course, if they happen to leave the curtains of their bedroom undrawn, a high vantage and my telephoto proboscis yields me the most irrefutable of hard evidence. Love's irresistible objects, meet me, the unmovably faithful force. I do love an unhappy ending. It pays the bills.
The pair's movement is curiously serrated. Presumably the mother has a longer stride than the girl, unless she has consciously shortened it by way of compensation. Yet the daughter is not being dragged forward. Instead she appears to be bouncing up and down as much as propelling herself forward.
I straighten myself up from my low slung surveillance posture in the car's front seat. As I fiddle for the seat's hoisting mechanism beneath me, I now appreciate that she is skipping along, which accounts for her upward thrust. She appears not to be of sufficient mass to impact on her mother, as the level of their conjoined hands doesn't vary. The girl's face is beaming.
However the timing of finally grasping the lever and elevating myself into a fully upright position, coincided with her approaching level with the windscreen and might have appeared to be me fashioning a deliberate, lunging leer on my countenance. For the girl stops her movement and instantly her beam disappears. The mother hasn't noticed and is continuing to press on ahead. Since they are still connected at the hand, at a certain point they become fully-extended and the greater mass and momentum of the mother overwhelms the inertia of the girl, who was still staring at me, thus yanking her forward. She loses her balance and topples towards the pavement.
Her mother's reflexes are swift enough to pivot round and partially break her daughter's fall; clutching her like a rag doll, bracing the bulk of the girl's mass across the crook of her arm, so that only her knees scraped the pavement. The two stay like this Rodin sculpture, tension rippling through their bodies, until their mutual forces settled into equilibrium. The daughter relaxes and allows her mother to right her. Then she bursts into tears and directs her mother's gaze down to her knees and the skin scraped so red raw that even I could see from my couched vantage.
In among her tears and gesticulations, the girl flung an arm back in my direction. But it lacks precision and dangles amorphously at the empty road beyond my car. The mother is only intent on hauling her daughter's attention back to consider her own wounded frame. I snake my body back down into the bosom of my car seat and depressed the lever to tilt it towards the horizontal for good measure. Though excised from their vision, I continue watching them through my driver's mirror.
Eventually an equipoise of emotions must have been reinstated, as the girl was willing to vacate the site of her felling. The two rejoin hands and begin to march off, no skipping this time. I witness the girl snake her head beneath her armpit and launch a glower unmistakably back in my direction.
Once they were out of sight, I ponder the change in state I seem to have unwittingly rendered. From blithe smiling and skipping, through to blank (shocked?) stasis, finally to leaden trudge and shot daggers at me. I bob my head either side of my dashboard. From the three angles of projection, the speedometer needle either indicated less than zero, absolute naught or the first tinge of a measure above nullity. Which if any represented the default cast of the girl prior to my impact on her?
Hopeful to think that of course it would have been the happy, smiling face. But one had to admire the quiet surety with which the mother handled the fallout of the injuries, perhaps suggestive that this was far from the first time when she had to apply some emotional salve to her (neurotic) daughter? And why would some movement glanced at the fringes of her eye have stopped her up short anyway? Was she full of internalised stories of terror of strange and hostile intentions of men out in the big wide world? That round every corner lurked bogeymen and predators? In which case one has to raise the spectre of just who put such wild notions inside her head in the first place? Were they wilfully taught at her mother's knee, or just imbibed by inhaling the skittish and fretful air around the mother? Perhaps the mother may only be able to come to the fore when she can slip into a soothing of hurt mode, even if she was the one who directly or indirectly prompted the injury in the first place.
They were coming back, the same mother and little girl. The girl is brandishing an ice cream like the Olympic Torch, offering it up to her mother who demurely declines. Had that been why she was smiling in first place, or was this a later bargain to ameliorate her pain and discomfiture? If the ice cream was a reversion to an original itinerary, then she may well not even register me and my car. If it is compensation however... I notice that she's not skipping, but then she wouldn't if she is targeting the cone with sure, steady licks at the strawberry globe atop. I can see the hue of the ice cream has stained the tip of her lapping tongue. Clearly the temperature differential is itself slightly painful as she shudders and flinches each time her tongue contacts the frozen ice. Indeed she is taking a break from lapping at it just as she approaches the car. She exchanges hands around the cone and in doing so it brushes the chassis. The collision causes it to drop from her hand and plop to the ground. The girl wells up. The mother looks thunderous...
The observer distorts what he observes. I've been in my line too long. It has prejudiced me against people. I can only see relationships as between contesting forces.
Thursday, 5 April 2012
"Hell is other people" opined Jean-Paul Sartre. Hell on earth maybe. But in the afterlife, can we even call it that, can I call it that...? There is certainly no other company to pin the blame on. The posthumous life is an isolated one.
Can you live with yourself? For eternity I mean? And it's not even that hoary old notion of an endless replaying and mulling over your recently departed life, what you did right, what you did wrong. I do reference the odd event from my former existence here and there, but only in parentheses. Mere flotsam in the remorseless torrent of thought that afflicts me in my current disposition. Certainly nothing to gain a firm hand hold on to anchor one upon sure-footedness. For here, wherever here is - concepts of fluffy clouds or burning hellfires have both proved fancifully baseless - though my exact configuration is no less nebulous - the mind is never switched off.
For there is no sleep. No room for idle daydreaming. Never a pause to eat, or relieve oneself. Except of mental effluence. Though actually there is no relief even to be had there. The spate streams on. Mindlessly one might even say. Though the thought is coherent. Self-reflectively so. On the niggling status of the thinking being. For it is uncoupled from any corporeality. Therefore it-I, lack any spatial dimensions. And we have already established that there is no temporal one either. For only with the body's mechanical, clockwork needs does time have a rhythm against which to regulate them.
It's odd. Now that I'm stripped of a physical vessel with all its cacophonous feedback chatter, so that the mind is free to cogitate unimpeded, it is not the purpose of my past life that it contemplates, but its current uncertain status. Without a sensory apparatus, it- I can gain no new information, so can only draw on what has gone before, which I have seemingly relegated to background trivia, or else the purely abstract. How approaching death we once raged at the great cosmic joke played on our species, of the life spent building relationships, lives, loves and the whole of material reality, only to have it snatched away by the most final of cessations. When in fact we appear now to have been looking at it the wrong way around. Condemned to some sort of existence here, where nothing ever terminates. Would that it did. To obtain a rest from this incessant onslaught of rumination. Maybe the Buddhists on earth had it right, with their meditation seasoning them for this. Granting them the ability to impregnate pauses and garner silences. The stilling of the spirit. Mind you, no sign of their other belief in reincarnation. Of heading back into the corporeal fray wrapped in a new skin.
So the body is shucked, but the psyche still seems to persist. Even more obsessively if that's even possible. So one begins to sift as to what mind is- was. It used to be charged with steering the body through the vicissitudes of life and promoting the common weal. Knitting together perceptions, memories and feelings into a relatively unified and consistent core identity. Presently it seems involved in a perpetual inquiry as to its own nature, with reference and comparison to what it was when cased in flesh. The mind interrogating itself.
Back down there- not that directionality has any meaning anymore, the mind was the collective set of impressions and interpretations yielded by the senses, filtered through emotions and all sorts of brain chemistry. Yet here, presumably I lack for the physical brain, the electrical synaptic pulses, the chemical baths. So where is this "I" housed? What is enabling it to persist beyond physical form? Am I haunting myself? The location I refuse to rescind is not a place on earth, but my own ego. Despite the battering it has taken through expiration and disseverance.
And that's what it-I do. In a never ending loop. A Moebius Strip of reflexivity. Turning itself over and over, inside out, yet never being able to penetrate itself. If life was mockingly fleeting back on earth, what of it now? Locked into trying to see what any of it is all for, such singular purpose seemingly being only the continuous and flawed search itself. Hell isn't other people. It's the stripped down, bare self. The agony of partial being. It is the realisation that one has only ever been an abstraction, unable to present itself into full awareness of what it actually is, or what it represents.
Can you live with yourself?